I still remember my first teaching position. I took over a fifth grade class at the end of April. April 26th, 2005 to be exact. To say it was a challenge would be a giant understatement. I'm going to be honest, the first day, I just focused on breathing. I was completely overwhelmed and really had no idea how I was going to add structure to a class who had clearly gone without structure for the majority of their year. After a very chaotic first few days in which I felt quite defeated and had zero control of the class, I went home and wrote down all of my expectations for them. I then thought about how I would present them to the students since standing in front of the room and telling them my rules had clearly not worked. I began to work up different scenarios that my students could engage in, which would allow them to be a little silly, because I needed them on my side, but would also allow me to show them what my expectations were. I went in the next day and started our day by passing out different scenarios of bad behavior. The students acted them out and after each one, we discussed why the behavior was not correct, and then the students reenacted the same scenario with the correct behavior.
Ladies and gentlemen, it worked. The difference between day #1 and day #2 were night and day and every day after that was far better than the first. To be honest, even I was surprised. I learned something extremely valuable that day, that there is serious power in setting clear expectations.
So how hard is it to set clear expectations? Maybe harder than you think. If you consider my story, it wasn't that I didn't tell my students my expectations on the first day. I did. But I didn't show them. Sure, I stood there and talked "at" them about what I wanted them to do, but did I engage them in the conversation? No. Did I ask for their opinions on it? No. Did I involve them in the process of setting these expectations? No. What was different in my second attempt is that I did all of those things.
I not only engaged my students, but I asked them to show me the wrong, identify the right, and show me the appropriate behavior. We then had a huge discussion about what THEY learned and WE listed the classroom expectations that would make THEIR year a success. I made it about THEM, not me. At no point did I alienate them from the process. And you know what? It worked then and it continues to work.
So my advice?
1. Make students feel involved in the process.
2. Allow students to model expected behaviors. This will set the tone for your entire year, so you want the students to be engaged.
3. Write your rules together. Post them in the room after all students have added their signature to the rules that they helped you to create.
4. Present the rules not as a because the teacher said so, but instead as a you have to because you want to learn each day. Make it their non-negotiable, and then make it yours.
Keep in mind, clear expectations aren't just about the first day, they are about holding students responsible for following them every day, and being consistent. If you are not consistent with your expectations, your students won't be consistent with their behavior.
I'm including a freebie pack that includes 15 of the behavior scenarios that I've used and were created by a former colleague and I. They cover a number of different areas of the school (assemblies, hallways, cafeteria, etc). I've also added recording pages for students to use during and after they've completed their scenarios. I hope that this will be helpful as you kick off your new year. These are also great to pull out as a refresher after the long winter break, or if you find yourself taking over a classroom at the end of April, like me! :-)